In 2017, when Mohammad Siraj made his Indian Premier League debut with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, he made a promise to himself. He saw Bhuvneshwar Kumar, his senior and team-mate with the purple cap and he said, “Someday, I will wear it too.”
Cut to 2023, Mohammad Siraj is very much in the mix for the purple cap, with 13 wickets in seven matches. It’s a glow-up that has been so impressive that it demands a transformation reel of its own. This turnaround has been organic and gradual, one that is driven by years of hard work and personal realisations.
Like Siraj describes this roller-coaster ride in a post-match interaction with Dinesh Karthik, “In the five years since, maine itna maar khaya (I was hit for so many runs), phir acha hua (then I got better), phir maar khaya (then got hit again) but now, I am very confident and I am enjoying as well.”
Half-way into the tournament, Siraj has built a reputation for becoming a sure-shot wicket-taker in the powerplay. In the IPL, it has helped RCB so far as they have the best economy rate in the powerplay. In that phase, Siraj has conceded at less than 5 runs per over, bowling a remarkable 64 dot balls out of the 96 balls he has delivered so far.
Adam Griffith, RCB’s bowling coach, who has been watching Siraj from close quarters said in a post-match press conference, “He is one of the best in the world at the moment. It’s not just today, he has been bowling well for the whole tournament and even before that for India. He is our leader, he sets the tone for us upfront with the new ball. It’s no coincidence that our powerplays have been good with the ball in the tournament.”
It’s true, he indeed is one of the best in the world right now at what he does. He became the No. 1 ODI bowler in January, when he took 37 wickets from 20 matches after a memorable series at home against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, he has been holding up the Indian pace-attack alongside Mohammed Shami. The added responsibility, increased exposure and game-time has definitely added to his confidence and polished his skills.
It is in stark contrast to last year, where he conceded 509 runs and picked merely nine wickets at an economy rate of 10.08. One of his most forgettable performances last year came when he was taken to the cleaners by Rajasthan Royals. He had conceded 31 runs in two overs alone.
But this year, the vastly improved Siraj wasn’t going to let a solid opening partnership foster under his watch. He cleaned up Jos Buttler for a duck in the first over he bowled.
Buttler seemed to be playing for the movement away, possibly after seeing the initial delivery that swung for Jaiswal. Instead, Siraj ended up beating the inside edge and crashed the leg stump by opting for his effective scrambled-seam delivery.
“The first ball to Jaiswal hadn’t swung too much. It was a day game so I thought it isn’t going to swing. My wobble-seam and scrambled-seam helps on all kinds of wickets anyway so I figured that my first delivery itself to him, will be a scrambled-seam delivery because he was probably expecting an outswinger. But I also thought that the I would place the scrambled-seam delivery a little higher up. and like I expected, it pitched exactly there and I got a wicket so I was very happy,” dissected Siraj in what was yet another powerplay wicket.
Mohammad Siraj's overall bowling stats in IPL
His most impactful performance came against Punjab Kings, where he picked up his IPL career-best figures 4/21 in Mohali.
He bowled an outstanding opening spell and claimed the wicket of opener Atharva Taide off the second ball and then took the crucial wicket of the dangerous Liam Livingstone inside the powerplay. When Jitesh Sharma began to form a partnership with Harpreet Brar, he knocked him over and dismissed Nathan Ellis off the second ball, for two death-overs wickets.
Following the four-for, Siraj had attributed the personal and professional transformation to the quarantine period saying, “The lockdown was really important for me, because I used to get hit for boundaries very often before that. I worked on my plans, my fitness and my bowling and it’s all paying dividends now.”
He also had a realisation following the fiasco of a season last year because he now had a reputation to live up to as one of the main cogs of the Indian pace attack. Although, it can be added pressure for many, Siraj seems to have used it as a means to evolve his thought-process and up his game.
“When I had a bad season last year, I thought to myself that I am part of the Indian team and that it isn’t right that my execution isn’t coming off like I expected it to,” he told Karthik. “I wanted to play all three formats and I realised that if I wanted to get selected for the World Cup (in 2022), I have to make it happen anyhow. I asked myself, ‘What’s under my control?’ So, the mindset I went in with was that I must stay in the present and whatever happens after that, I’ll let that happen.”
In a round-table interaction with Brett Lee organised by Jio Cinema, the Australian legend finds it most impressive that Siraj is able to get the results even at the RCB homeground in M Chinnaswamy. It is a graveyard for bowlers in general but some assistance for spinners salvages it for them. However, fast-bowling with the small boundaries and with wickets that fly through for batters with the ball coming, on makes it tough.
In fact, at a run-rate of 7.00, RCB’s bowling unit boasts the best economy rate for a team in the powerplay. With the likes of Wayne Parnell and often, David Willey, Siraj has the right support. It has enabled him to pick seven out of his thirteen wickets so far in his opening spell,
Lee attributes his leadership in the wickets column so far to the combination of pace and his ability to swing the ball and variety.
He explained, “The reason, in my opinion, why he is at the top of the purple cap is because of his pace. He has got genuine pace, he shapes the ball away, he can also angle it back into the right-hander and angle away from the left-handed batter to induce the nick but when you bowl in the middle to late period (14th or 19th or 20th over) he has got a killer yorker. We saw that on a number of occasions in the first few games. He absolutely nails his yorkers.”
“I have always said that the teams that close out in the death the best with their bowlers will be the team that will go on to be successful so RCB are very lucky that they have got a guy like Mohammed Siraj, charging in every single day. I am not surprised that he is at the top of the tree,” he added.
After the narrow seven-run victory against RR, Kohli offered a special mention to Siraj saying, “Phenomenal, he’s got him (Buttler) out in the past and he’s bowling as well as I’ve ever seen. Running in with the new ball he shows that intent and the confidence, he has the Purple Cap (then) and for good reason.”
With the responsibility, personal transformation and experience, RCB seem to have found their MVP for the season in Siraj. And following a solid international home season, this run of form augurs well for India too. The key, however is to stay in the moment and not get carried away.
As he said, “What is in my hand is the ball so and how to bowl it.”
Sometimes, the secret to turning things around can be the simplest of philosophies. And it is working well right now for Miya bhai.